W.Va. groups want revised rules to do more

Jessica M. Karmasek Jul. 16, 2010, 12:22pm


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) -- The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce on Friday says it believes changes proposed by the state Supreme Court in its Revised Rules of Appellate Procedure don't go far enough in providing a fair appellate process in the state.

The Chamber planned to file its comments on the proposed revised rules Friday.

The proposed rules, the Chamber said, on first reading "appear to provide a right of appeal, albeit somewhat limited.

"A more careful reading makes clear that this 'right' is at best cosmetic, as opposed to substantive."

West Virginia, the Chamber said, is the only state that doesn't provide the right of a meaningful appeal from a final judgment in a lower court, in either civil or criminal cases.

"This significantly tarnishes our reputation for judicial fairness," it said.

The proposed rules, it said, move the appellate process forward. But as proposed, the rules "will continue many archaic systems and tools that are considered outdated."

The Chamber said if the rules are adopted, litigants will have "no greater right to have an adverse judgment from a lower court reviewed on a substantive basis than currently exists."

They also will overburden an already busy Supreme Court of Appeals, the Chamber said.

The rules "will offer little stability and predictability with a guaranteed body of law" because the state's Supreme Court of Appeals "will not allow its decisions to be taken as precedent setting under the new rules."

The Chamber believes the proposed rules are "inadequate," and instead supports the creation of an intermediate appellate court to provide a "full, fair and transparent review process."

West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse on Friday also called for the new rules to better ensure that future legal appeals will receive careful and substantive reviews.

The group points to the proposed Rule 21. They said the rule on memorandum decisions needs greater explanation to "ensure that a right of appeal is granted in all future cases that are properly filed."

"While the Court has proposed releasing, at the very least, an abbreviated opinion in every properly filed appeal, it's unclear just how substantial those opinions will be under the current version of the rules," WV CALA Executive Director Richie Heath said in a statement.

"Without further explanation from the Court, it is difficult to determine whether a memorandum decision would be any more meaningful to potential litigants than the Court's current process for denying a petition for appeal."

The group, like the Chamber, urged members of the Court to reconsider their opposition to a proposed intermediate court of appeals.

"The creation of an intermediate appeals court has been recommended in West Virginia for more than a decade, dating back to the state Supreme Court's own Commission on the Future of the West Virginia Judicial System," Heath said.

"West Virginia is now part of a distinct minority of states without an intermediate appeals court, and three other states with caseloads smaller than the Mountain State have created such a court since the Supreme Court's commission first recommended it."

Heath, the group's executive director, said the proposed revised rules may improve the state's current appeals process, but still doesn't put residents on the same legal footing as people in most other states.

"The creation of an intermediate appeals court, as recommended by the governor's commission, would go a long way towards improving West Virginia's appeals process," he said.

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